After becoming a massive hit following its October debut and sweeping the winter awards, “The Queen’s Gambit” topped our Emmy odds for Best Limited Series the entire way through the nominations phase. Even though it’s been able to retain its lead post-nominations, the gap between it and No. 2, HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” is slowly narrowing. Below, I lay out four reasons why you shouldn’t be surprised if “Mare” snatches the “Queen’s” seemingly predestined crown.
1. It has across-the-board support
“Mare” raked in 16 nominations, of which seven are above the line, where it’s shortlisted for limited series, actress (Kate Winslet), supporting actress (Julianne Nicholson and Jean Smart), supporting actor (Evan Peters), writing and directing. The remaining nine are below the line, where it scared up noms for casting, cinematography, editing (twice) and sound mixing, plus contemporary costumes, hairstyling, makeup (non-prosthetic) and production design. Of the 17 categories in which was submitted, it made the cut in 14, missing out merely in music composition, music supervision and sound editing.
Of the show’s four series competitors, the two that scored more noms are Disney+’s “WandaVision” — which is in fourth place in our odds — with 23 bids and “The Queen’s Gambit” with 18. “WandaVision” made the cut in 20 of 25 possible categories, while “The Queen’s Gambit” impressively snuck into each one of the 18 categories in which it was submitted. Although “Mare’s” tally may slightly pale in comparison, bear in mind that both “WandaVision” and “The Queen’s Gambit” are much showier in nature and therefore more likely to dominate the crafts categories — “WandaVision” scored 15 and “The Queen’s Gambit” 12 below-the-line bids. While “Mare” was probably helped by competing in several contemporary categories, it still did notably well in those in light of its small-town Pennsylvania setting and all-around unembellished, natural style and look. Its below-the-line strength is only reinforced by the fact that it also nabbed bids in categories that combine limited/anthology series and TV movies regardless of setting, such as editing — where it double-dipped — cinematography and sound mixing.
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Rounding out the limited series lineup are another HBO series, “I May Destroy You,” and Amazon Prime’s “The Underground Railroad,” which are in third and fifth, respectively, in our odds. While “I May Destroy You” performed well above the line, having snagged two directing nominations, it slightly underperformed below the line, where it earned only three of its nine total citations. Also set in contemporary times but a half-hour series, it missed out in several categories in which it was in direct competition with “Mare,” such as cinematography, hairstyling and editing. Meanwhile, “The Underground Railroad,” which snagged seven noms, was blanked above the line outside of series and directing, and, despite being a crafts-heavy show, was omitted in key below-the-line categories, including costume and production design, makeup, hairstyling and editing.
The reason across-the-board support matters is that all branches cast their votes in the program categories. Although “Mare” does not ostensibly have support from as many branches as “WandaVision” and “The Queen’s Gambit” do, it hit everywhere it needed to and beyond.
2. Recency bias
Of the past five limited series Emmy champs, four aired in the second half of their respective Emmy cycles: “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016), “Big Little Lies” (2017), “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (2018) and “Chernobyl” (2019). The exception is last year’s winner, “Watchmen,” which aired in the fall of 2019. But the HBO series racked up a whopping 26 noms, the most for a limited since “Roots'” 37 in 1977, and thus had more than twice the number of citations of the limited series nominee with the second highest total, FX on Hulu’s 10-time nominated “Mrs. America.”
This year, this recent trend could favor three series: “WandaVision,” “The Underground Railroad” and “Mare.” “WandaVision” aired from January to March and all 10 of “The Underground Railroad’s” episodes dropped on Amazon Prime on May 14, but “Mare” might be most top of mind for voters as it ran from April 18 until May 30. Meanwhile, both “The Queen’s Gambit” and “I May Destroy You” aired last year, the latter all the way back in the summer. This also means that while “The Queen’s Gambit” swept the winter awards, it did so in the absence of “Mare,” “The Underground Railroad” and, in some instances, “WandaVision” (which was able to compete at some winter guilds due to the extended eligibility window).
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3. It was an audience hit
Similar to how “The Queen’s Gambit” and “WandaVision” were smash hits for Netflix and Disney+, respectively, “Mare” was one for HBO and HBO Max. Over its seven-episode run, the series quickly became a phenomenon, joining “The Undoing” as the only series in HBO history to see consecutive viewership growth week to week. Its finale set a record (and caused HBO Max to crash) as the most-watched episode of an original series on HBO Max, which albeit has only been around for a year, during its first 24 hours of availability. It thus impressively outperformed the finales of “The Undoing” and “The Flight Attendant” over the same period of time.
4. The HBO factor
What might give “Mare” a leg up over the two aforementioned fellow juggernauts is that HBO leads in victories in the limited series category with a total of 13, including the last two champs, “Chernobyl” and “Watchmen.” At the same time, limited series is the only one of the three main program categories a streaming service has not yet been able to claim — Hulu won drama series with “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 2017, while Amazon scored back-to-back comedy series wins with “The Marevelous Mrs. Maisel” in 2018 and “Fleabag” in ’19. While Disney+ is untested in the limited series category, Netflix, which has famously never netted a series prize at the Emmys, has lost it three times and with four different shows. Where HBO as well as another networks and streaming services arguably have an advantage over Netflix is in the weekly releases of their shows, which can build and sustain buzz over a longer period of time.
Of the two HBO series that could benefit from the network’s track record, “Mare” might ultimately be in better position due to its across-the-board support, later release and immense popularity.
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